Christmas seems like a long time ago, right? So why am I writing about it now, at the end of January?
Well, as my Christmas rubbish was finally collected the other week, I looked at the sheer amount of black bags that I placed outside my house, full of non-recyclable Christmas paper, wrappings, and food packaging (that cannot be cleaned) and it crossed my mind that there must be better ways.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all into recycling and do my level best to ensure as much as possible gets into the correct recycling box, bag, or bin (we have quite a complex recycling system here in Essex) but there is so much that does not fit the strict “rules of recycling” that I can only guess how many people don’t even try and so all goes to the black bag heaven (or hell).
I started to research the area of sustainability and Christmas packaging and was amazed at some of the facts I found.
- We in the UK create a staggering 30% more rubbish during the festive period than compared to the rest of the year. This is in the region of 3 million tonnes of refuse.
- In the USA, the excess goes on longer with an increase in rubbish/trash between Thanksgiving and New Year of 25%
- With over 500 million canned drinks sold over the festive season (this is on top of baseline sales figures) if you recycle just 1 of the cans, it saves enough energy to power your Christmas tree lights for 2 hours.
- UK consumers will use a staggering 227,000 miles of wrapping paper each year and 83km2 ends up as general waste (not recycled) that’s 108 million standard rolls!
- On single tonne of landfill costs us in the UK £56 in tax. Based on the calculations of packaging (Plastic, card, and foil) wasted each year this adds up to £168 million pounds.
These facts and many more that I found through my research led me to think about how can we help reduce these startling figures?
Let's face it none of us are going to completely change overnight but 1 or 2 small steps in the right direction can often make a big difference and like most things, once you start doing it you actually find it is a lot easier than expected and therefore the amount you do increases over time.
So what small steps can you take to reduce Christmas packaging waste? There are so many ways I could write a book.
Let's start with the most obvious culprit and easiest way to make a difference to get the bauble rolling.
Reuse - I know, Christmas morning (or Christmas eve for some countries) can be a busy and exciting time and it is all to easy once the unwrapping is over to grab a black bag and just bundle all the paper in and throw it to the bin but if we take a minute just to separate it out we can all start to make a difference. There are many different types of Christmas wrapping, some are recyclable and some are not. The ones that are non-recyclable tend to be the more luxury types and have a plastic film over them which stops them from becoming crinkled (or recyclable). This offers a hidden benefit in that they will tend not to rip and makes them perfect for reuse. Sure in the heat of the moment there may be a tear or two but that does not mean the paper is redundant. There is no set size for a present so the old paper can be trimmed down and used again for a smaller present in a year's time, so grab one of the old cardboard tubes (recycling again) and wrap the used paper around ready for next year. I suggest re-rolling rather than folding as over the course of the year many of those minor creases will ease out.
An even better reuse method to wrap presents is to embrace the Japanese art tradition of Furoshiki fabric wraps. Furoshiki originated in Japan around 710 B.C. during the Nara period. During this time, the cloth that an object was wrapped in was referred to as Tsutsumi, meaning “package” or “present.” It was primarily used to wrap important goods and treasures found in Japanese temples. During the Heian period, which lasted from 794 to 1185, the cloth was called Koromo Utsumi, and it was mostly used to wrap clothing. Furoshiki wraps are fabric squares of differing sizes that can be used to wrap all manner of things. Especially for the family presents as the fabric is more likely to stay with you, this is a stylish and eco-friendly way to hide what’s most important…. The present inside.
Especially now we are all shopping online and the plethora of boxes arriving at our doors contains lots of packaging. Don’t send it to recycling straight away…. Well, not all of it. I am not suggesting next year will be presents covered in bubble wrap and corn chips but increasingly online stores like Amazon are using recyclable packing materials, Rough fiber paper, and tissue paper. By collecting these packing materials you have a near-endless supply of wrapping materials ready for Christmas. Before you complain that it is boring, think differently, think creatively. Spruce it up with some rough string or even a ribbon from last year (so much better than stick tape) and some seasonal holly or Christmas tree cutting and you have a very cool looking present. Presents don’t need to be crisp either. Try scrunching up the paper to get a worn look that if carried off can actually look better than a red box with shiny snowmen all over. Top tip - Last year's Christmas cards are always good for cutting down and making gift tags to give them a second life.
As I said before there are so many ways to have a more sustainable Christmas…. And life in general, but trying to do too much at once can often lead to failure so hopefully these few suggestions can be the first step to helping reduce waste and have a more sustainable Christmas than the last one.
No excuses, You have plenty of time to start collecting, it's only the start of February!